Riso amaro (Bitterer Reis)

Giuseppe De Santis

January 7 to February 8, 2012


To celebrate Giuseppe De Santis today also means to celebrate a certain stance: He stood for a truly popular, epic and communist cinema. He believed in peasants and workers, in their common sense and organizational skills – a belief that reaches its fullest expression in his monumental and lyrical film about an act of civil disobedience, La strada lunga un anno (The Year-Long Road, 1958). He believed that people watch movies in order to reach a different understanding about their lives and the society in which they live. Because, at the movies, we are not alone with our issues; in the darkness we search collectively for answers – thus, he made Roma ore 11 (Rome 11 O'Clock, 1952), a morality-tale about a catastrophic accident. He believed that films should make demands on us, that they were meant to tell us: This is meaningful, This is not; this is how you trespass against your friend, your neighbor, your comrade, and this is how you act in solidarity with those who have so little yet number so many – which is the story of De Santis' Sicilian “western”, Non c’è pace tra gli ulivi (Under the Olive Tree, 1950).
He also believed that we have the right to lead our lives so that they are beautiful, exciting, exhilarating and hopeful – which is why he made class-conscious, entertaining and sometimes disturbing melodramas like Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, 1949) and Un marito per Anna Zaccheo (1953). He believed in courage and patience, condemned laziness and procrastination, cheap compromise and indifference – which is why, in Giorni di gloria (1945), he and some of his peers documented the achievements of the partisans and the suffering of the Italian population during the last months of the war. And half a century later, in Oggi è un altro giorno (1995), he looked at this era again, countering its false depiction by the state media. Giuseppe De Santis was cut from the same cloth as Kurosawa, King Hu, or Sam Peckinpah: a humanist, a fighter for enlightenment through action.
De Santis was born in 1917 in Fondi, from simple but solid stock. In 1935, he went to Rome to study philosophy and literature – his first great love among the arts. But he learned more from those with whom he associated, especially in the anti-fascist circles surrounding Mario Alicata, Giaime Pintor, Antonello Trombadori and Pietro Ingrao. During those years, De Santis came to understand that by means of cinema he could communicate more clearly to the people he cared most about: the peasants and workers about whom he had already written short stories. He abandoned his studies, entered the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and quickly became a key film critic at Vittorio Mussolini's magazine, Cinema. Here, along with Luchino Visconti, Carlo Lizzani, Gianni Puccini, Antonio Pietrangeli and others, he developed the theoretical principles of neo-realism. His notion of neo-realism was formed from elements of fascist modernism, socialist realism and progressive Hollywood cinema. 
As a co-writer of films such as Ossessione (Visconti), Desiderio (Pagliero & Rossellini), and Il sole sorge ancora (Aldo Vergano) and as the director of Caccia tragica (The Tragic Hunt, 1947), Riso amaro, Non c’è pace tra gli uliviHis stance had come to a stop. and Roma ore 11, De Santis was one of post-war Italy's most respected and successful directors worldwide. Like few others, he stood for the greatness of this cinema, for its decisive historical break and the spirit of a new beginning. This changed in the late 1950s: his passion project La strada lunga un anno could only be made in Yugoslavia, and both La Garçonnière (1960) and Italiani brava gente (1964) were met with sedate indifference. Before his death in 1997, he was only able to direct one more feature film; dozens of screenplays for film and television projects remained unrealized. 
The retrospective is organized in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce and the Italian Cultural Institute.
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